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Home / Science / The NASA NEOWISE space probe helped clear up the mystery of what lies on the surface of asteroids

The NASA NEOWISE space probe helped clear up the mystery of what lies on the surface of asteroids



The asteroid-hunter spaceship has recorded thermal data from more than 100 near-Earth space rocks, showing what happens to its surface regolith.

In December 2009, NASA launched the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission with the goal of imaging all of the sky in infrared light so that we could learn more about the stars, other galaxies and celestial bodies in our own solar system ,

After completing its main objective in two years, the WISE spacecraft remained dormant for another two years, when it was awakened from its slumber in 2013 and given a new name and a new purpose.

Now, the near-object wide-field infrared surveyor (NEOWISE) is called our planet to detect, identify and characterize near-Earth objects (the clue is in the name).

Armed with thermal sensors that enable him to make infrared observations, the NEOWISE spacecraft is actively seeking asteroids to collect data on their orbit, size, surface properties and chemical composition. His mission has helped discover the surface properties of more than 1

00 space rocks in the asteroid belt, NASA recently announced.

A new study published in the journal Icarus and archived online on the arXiv server NEWISE archived and found a wealth of data that shed light on what is going on on the surface of many asteroids of the main belt ,

The research, led by Josef Hanuš of the Astronomical Institute of the Charles University in Prague, used thermal observations of the NEOWISE spacecraft for detailed "thermophysical" modeling of these asteroids and for revealing the properties of their surface regolith – fine grains of dust and broken rock caused by thermal cracking and deposited on the surface of asteroids.

"Thermophysical modeling is a goldmine for asteroid researchers because they allow a more comprehensive analysis of the nature of asteroids, "NASA officials said, adding that the NEOWISE thermal data helped build thermophysical models for three times as many asteroids as before.

Scouring the NEOWISE Archive The researchers found infrared data for 122 asteroids that they had previously modeled to see their shape and how they rotate. This helped to add thermal data to the 3D shape and rotation models of space rock.

"Archived data from the NEOWISE mission and our previously derived shape models enabled us to create highly detailed thermophysical models of 122 main belt asteroids." said Hanuš.

According to the lead author of the study, the thermal NEOWISE observations were critical to the asteroids having very little dust on their surface.

"We now have a better idea of ​​the surface regolith's properties and show that small asteroids, as well as fast rotating asteroids, have little or no dust on their surfaces."

As NASA states fine regolith grains struggle to attach to the surface of fast-moving space rock because the low gravity and high asteroid speeds prevent small particles from sticking to the surface.

Another reason for the lack of regolith in this type of asteroid might be related to their small c thermal cracks. As solar radiation is distributed more rapidly across its rapidly rotating surface, these asteroids do not undergo large temperature changes and are therefore less prone to cracking and produce fine grains of regolith.

Another thing the new study has revealed was that the NEOWISE spacecraft has done a fantastic job in collecting data about the size of the asteroids.

The researchers repeated the calculations with more sophisticated models and found that their results corresponded to those of the NEOWISE team. "Between the two results, they were within 10 percent," Hanuš pointed out.

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